Magic.  Anything is still possible in the 12-year old brain. The perfectly timed intersection of “knowledge” and “naiveté”, they genuinely believe the future is wide open….

With delight, i accepted an offer to teach a little geekery to a group of 40 “Science Campers”.  They were beautiful – a hyperspectral rainbow of excitement and energy, hungry to know something cool… ANYTHING geeky.   Yeah.  i’m guessing they were enjoying a week of not getting beat up after school for a change…

They pinged me with questions, a little shy at first, gaining confidence as they got comfortable with my style.  “How does that plate change photons into electrons?” to “Are there any sensors that can really see through clothes?” (giggles all around).
Was i like that at twelve years old?  Seems that i’ve always been a crunchy and jaded cynic.  Spending a morning with them took me back. 

Forty years ago this month, i was an androgynous, amorphous and routinely dirt-encrusted seven year old.  When Neil Armstrong was about to take his first steps on the moon, Dad dragged us out of bed. The entire family watched grainy, shaky images on the black and white console in the living room. 

Wasn’t really sure what was going on, but i knew it was important. At least to my Dad.

Over the next several years, he and i tracked the Apollo program closely. To say that it sparked me was an understatement. i didn’t just want to be an astronaut, I was going to be an astronaut.  He didn’t encourage me in a patronizing way, simply pointed out the things i’d have to do to get there.

We took a family vacation to the Huntsville Alabama Space and Missile center when i was 10 years old.  In hindsight, i  know it was his way of feeding my dream, because Mom and my sister, T, whined the entire trip.  In 1972, the Space Shuttle was in development, and we had the opportunity to muck around in a full scale prototype.  i was fascinated to discover my first space urinal – a nicely penis-shaped hole, attached to a vacuum system.

10 year old daisyfae to tour guide: “Where will the women go to the bathroom?”

i was given no acceptable answer. And it pissed me the fuck off….

In addition to the chance to teach Science Camp this week, i was also tagged to attend a technology exposition at a regional convention center. One of the keynote speakers was an astronaut. A woman who had worked in my organization when she was a baby engineer. About seven years younger than me, she’s now about 40.

Her presentation covered two prior space missions, as well as her current training for a lengthy stint on the international space station.  From underwater living in a deep-sea habitrail, to a few months in Antarctica to learning Russian, Japanese and German while working with her international colleagues to learn the jobs to be performed in space….  An endless stream of adventure, intellectual and physical challenges as she prepares to live in space.

She was clearly still full of the wonder of a 12-year old, grateful to have the best job in the world, if not the universe. And i was mesmerized.  Could i have done it?  Well, she wasn’t married and wasn’t saddled with kids…  Lots more time to focus on your own dreams when you don’t have people depending on you to take out the trash and review homework!

Oh.  That’d be a photo of her husband and small child.  Um… right.  There goes that excuse.  She’s definitely had a bit of good fortune, but luck and timing only take you so far.  She is the real thing.  Hard work, persistence, focus, drive and passion… Sacrifice.  Sleep deprivation.  Giving up time with her family to do what it takes to hit the goal…

i’ve been pretty damn lucky myself, following my own dream – allowing for some dilution along the way – i’ve managed to have the geek-a-rific career i desired.  And more.  Following a path that parallels the aerospace industry, i’ve also had the fortune to get to know a few astronauts along the way, allowing me a glimpse “behind the capsule door” from time to time.

But close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  As a minimum, i need to get my doughy ass to the gym.  She’s only 7 years younger and can squeeze into a Russian rocket capsule, torquing her body to perform Herculean Amazonian tasks.  i should at least be able to do a few more push ups…


15 thoughts on “Potential

  1. Do you think they’ve had sex in space yet? All that time in weightlessness. They must have! I actually don’t know how well it would work. You need something to push against and I’m not sure how well it would work in zero gravity. But you could spin your partner round and round!

  2. I live in Huntsville. The Space and Rocket Center hasn’t been the same ever since Miss Baker died. Gotta love a monkey who can outlive at least 5 husbands.

  3. But did you ever find out how women pee in space? That’s the important question. Inquiring minds want to know.

    I think I’m living my dream now. No husband, no kids, companionship when I want it, solitude when I don’t. A dog for the unqualified affection. And a tone of hobbies that keep me busy. Perfect.

  4. i’m with silverstar on the peeing question. inquiring minds want to know!

    also, i’m terrified of space – and therefore have the greatest admiration and respect for those who want to explore it.

    and getting to the gym? you and me both. i’m 27 and i have never been able to do one full push-up. or a pull-up. these have recently become my life’s aspirations. you can do it though. the hardest part is remembering that it’s a slow process, built on a little bit of work. every. single. day.

  5. unbearable banishment – i am quite certain the answer to your question is “hells yeah”. even more entertaining (at least to me) is something referred to as the ‘van den berg coefficient’, which is the multiplication factor that relates to increased penis size in zero g. not published in any refereed journals that i’m aware of…

    jenny – first monkey of the US space program! wonder if she had the dream as a baby monkey…

    silverstar – early ‘sanitary’ efforts were pretty much baggies – sticky edges to hold them in place. “modern” conveniences include fan-driven systems. big news last spring when the toilets broke…

    daisymae – i know how to get in shape… have done it a few times. challenge for me is ALWAYS staying in shape. with a desk job, and ridiculous schedule (especially when doing a show), finding the hour a day to pump iron, do crunches, etc. is a bitch… but i’m re-motivated!

    jimmy – it’s always the mundane aspects of living in space that fascinated me… washing hair, sleeping, maintaining bone mass (they lose 1%/day in zero g without simulating weight bearing exercise). see “pee” answer above…

    nursemyra – the US astronauts wear the undergarments on the launch pad, under those macho orange space suits. never really knowing how long they’ll be strapped in, waiting for launch, it’s necessary. more challenging? they have to practice peeing in them – with hips elevated. not an easy task…

  6. I always knew this would happen. I read my first science fiction in 1953 when I was nine. Man going into space was something I expected, in the distant future. I was 13 when the Sputnik thing happened and 24 when Neil Armstrong kicked the moon. For me the timing was all wrong. You youngsters, both male and female, have no idea how lucky you are. You at least have/had the possibility of being an astronaut (or cosmonaut). I missed by half a generation.

    One of the memorable moments of my life was in May 1995. While watching the replica Endeavour sailing vessel (Captain Cook’s vessel when he discovered the east coast of Australia) I was listening to the first Aussie (Andrew Thomas) in space broadcasting from the Endeavour Space Shuttle which was passing overhead at the same time. Hairs on the back of the neck stuff!

  7. I happened to be chatting with an astronaut today (I do that regularly, one of the perks of the job)… he was 45 when accepted into the program, after 20 years of submitting his application. He is now 58 and finished his last shuttle flight in March. Probably won’t fly again as remaining docket is almost full. Pretty cool story and shows that we often give up on our dreams too early.

    Tomorrow I begin dedicating myself to bobsled.

  8. stephanie – not only encouraged me, but did so without being condescending. that’s a talent…

    archie – it’s truly still one of the last frontiers… to be an explorer, a discoverer, a pioneer? breath taking, exhilarating and just fucking cool… your “Endeavor” encounters are pretty cosmic!

    renalfailure – you.are.a.kid. 1986 was just yesterday for us old folks… i was just barely preggers with my elder-sprog, and cried uncontrollably that day – partly due to hormones, of course…

    mstng – meant that as “behind the space capsule door”. before we had the shuttle, folks went to space in spam cans atop rockets… the Russians still launch ’em this way (with parachute landings over dry land, rather than the water landings of the Apollo program)….

    nursemyra – he really is quite the tyke… “Officer, i didn’t know he was only 15! He has the body of a 21 year old!”

    ty – yeah, a good perk… i’ve got one close friend in the corps, and several peripheral acquaintances. your guy is pretty fucking inspirational! 20 years of applying? Magic… i’ll sponsor your bobsled training if you donate to my “roller derby” training fund…

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